Last week, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court issued a decision refusing to enjoin the state’s newly enacted strict photo ID law. They did so despite overwhelming evidence at trial that the law puts insurmountable hurdles in the path of many Pennsylvania voters and regardless of the state’s stipulation that there is no voter impersonation fraud in the Keystone State. If that wrongheaded decision is not reversed on appeal, the law’s effect on the hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania voters who lack a PennDOT issued photo ID will be profound. But that was not the only setback that day. The ink on the decision had barely dried when the state announced that it would abandon initiatives to offer voters the opportunity to register and apply for absentee ballots online. The reason given? County election officials felt that there was too much left to do to implement the photo ID law before the election, and that they could not handle more. Stephanie Singer, the top election official in Philadelphia, rightly called the state out for getting it backward: Modernizing reforms like online registration do not impose added burdens on election officials. Instead, they make election administration more efficient.
It is a real shame that Pennsylvania is straining to implement a photo ID law that will make it harder for eligible citizens to vote, instead of focusing on reforms proven to expand access to the franchise, ease the job of election officials, produce more accurate and reliable voters rolls, and yes, even reduce the possibility of fraud. Pennsylvania’s voters deserve better than that.